X-47B First Flight: Age of Pilot Ends

The quick take home is that thehuman fighter pilot is about to be obsolete and the next generation ofwarplanes will be flying a very high G’s that can not be matched by any humanpilot.  Progress will be rapid because weno longer need to cater to any human needs.

Expect that by the end of thedecade the air fleet will be free of onboard personnel.  We are witnessing the end of the age of thepilot.  It will take time until thepublic is prepared to trust themselves so completely to technology but it iscertainly coming faster than we think.

My expectation is driverless EVs beenthe norm as soon as 2020.  It is allpossible right now and is only waiting for an incremental improvement or twothat is well understood.

Expect to go sit in your vehicleand to instruct the car as to destination and no more.  It really is that close right now.

X-47B first flight: the era of the autonomous unmanned combat planeapproaches

15:17 February 8, 2011

No matter how I look at this, it still seems like science fiction – acombat aircraft without a pilot that is capable of flying itself, making itsown decisions, recognizing and neutralizing threats, and taking off and landingon an aircraft carrier. Last Friday (Feb 4), the NorthropGrumman-built U.S. NavyX-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft successfullycompleted its historic first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The era ofthe unmanned combat plane is fast approaching.

++Conducted by a U.S.Navy/Northrop Grumman test team, the flight took off at 2:09 p.m. PST andlasted 29 minutes. This event marks a critical step in the program, moving theteam forward to meet the demonstration objectives of a tailless fighter-sizedunmanned aircraft to safely take off from and land on the deck of a U.S. Navyaircraft carrier.

"First flight represents the compilation of numerous tests tovalidate the airworthiness of the aircraft, and the robustness and reliabilityof the software that allows it to operate as an autonomous system andeventually have the ability to take-off and land aboard an aircraftcarrier," said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy's UCAS-D program manager.

"Designing a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft from aclean sheet is no small feat," said Janis Pamiljans, vice president andUCAS-D program manager for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector."Commitment, collaboration and uncompromising technical excellence amongthe Navy, Northrop Grumman and the UCAS-D team industry partners made today'sflight a reality. We are indeed honored to have given wings to the Navy'svision for exploring unmanned carrier aviation."

Taking off under hazy skies, the X-47B climbed to an altitude of 5,000feet, flew several racetrack-type patterns, and landed safely at 2:38 p.m. PST.The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software forguidance and navigation, and the aerodynamic control of the tailless design.

As with all test programs, first flight represents the culmination,verification and certification of pre-flight system data collected and analyzedby both the Navy and Northrop Grumman. Airframe proof load tests, propulsionsystem accelerated mission tests, software maturity and reliabilitysimulations, full system taxi tests, and numerous other system test activitieswere all completed and certified prior to first flight.

The aircraft will remain at Edwards AFB for flight envelope expansionbefore transitioning to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland,later this year. There, the system will undergo additional tests to validateits readiness to begin testing in the maritime and carrier environment. TheUCAS-D program is preparing the X-47B for carrier trials in 2013.

The Navy awarded the UCAS-D prime contract to Northrop Grumman inAugust 2007. The six-year contract calls for the development of two X-47Bfighter-sized aircraft. The program will demonstrate the first-ever carrierlaunches and recoveries by an autonomous, unmanned aircraft with alow-observable-relevant platform. Autonomous aerial refueling will also beperformed after carrier integration and at-sea trials.

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